Rugby Cranes 7s, Hippos hogged the headlines

Sports minister Peter Ogwang hands the flag to 7s skipper Michael Wokorach. PHOTO/JOHN BATANUDDE 

What you need to know:

The Africa Men’s 7s title got Uganda slots at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa.

Rugby Cranes 7s will look back at 2002 as the year they built a reputation with each moment. 

They made a name for themselves at each opportunity they got and breathed new lease of life in Uganda rugby. 

In a busy year, coach Tolbert Onyango convinced Uganda Rugby Union (URU) to split the 7s and 15 codes with each settling for specific players. 

The specialisation gave the gaffer enough time with his preferred selections to get the best out of them.

April presented the group’s first task of the calendar year with the Africa Men's Sevens hosted at Kyadondo Rugby Club. 

The two day event saw Uganda host 13 other countries namely Kenya, Namibia, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tunisia, Mauritius, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Botswana, Ghana, Burundi and Senegal.  

There was growing belief among the home crowd that Uganda had what it takes to lift a third continental title in six years.

 However, there was a small matter of Kenya to deal with if the hosts were to keep the gong home. The big occasion showed up in the semifinals when Uganda landed Kenya, the stands were filled with euphoria and anxiety at the same time. 

Five time champions, Kenya, were coming off a World Sevens Series tour in USA and Singapore respectively and were favourites for a sixth title. 

Against Uganda, they were outwitted and outmuscled on a soggy Kyadondo turf. Even the celebrated Calvin Otieno "Buffa" known for leaving opponents terrified could not help Kenya get over the line.

Phillip Wokorach reminded the Kenyan following of his days in Kabras Sugar where his flashy feet took over the rugby scene, making him a household name in the rival’s den.

Wokorach was the architect as Uganda beat Kenya 22-12 to set up a repeat of the 2017 final against Zimbabwe.

The final against Zimbabwe evoked memories of the 2017 final when Zimbabwe almost left Kampala as Africa Cup champions before Adrian Kasito killed their hopes with a last gasp try in front of a packed Legends Rugby Club.

Five years later, Zimbabwe remained no match for the Cranes who put them to bed 28-0 in the final with tries from Ian Munyani, captain Michael Wokorach and Timothy Kisiga all getting tries to get the home crowd over the moon.

The Africa Men’s 7s title got Uganda slots at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa.

Five months after being crowned African Champions, the side headed for Birmingham where they reached new heights.

At Uganda’s fifth appearance playing rugby, they recorded their best finish (10th) out of 16 sides.

After opening with a 14-24 loss against Kenya in pool D, Uganda picked themselves up for a monstrous performance against World HSBC Series champions Australia in a game that had the Coventry Stadium crown on their feet cheering for Uganda.

The support saw them record a 12 all draw and Uganda could have stolen it at the death but Wokorach’s penalty attempt floated away from the poles.

The result won many hearts and left Uganda proud before finishing pool games with 40-0 drubbing of Jamaica.

The side also received the loudest cheers whenever they set foot on the Coventry turf as Sri Lanka and Tonga also fell in the Bowl quarters and semifinals respectively.

Hosts England ended Uganda’s run in the Bowl final with a 31-12 defeat but they had left a mark on the games.

From Desire Ayera ‘Dj Fufu’ hitting the decks to Wokorach finishing as the top points (56) scorer ahead the likes of Waisea Nacuqu (Fiji), Angelo Davids (South Africa) and New Zealand’s Ngarohi McGarvey-Black, Uganda were talk of town on the weekend.

Two weeks after Birmingham, it was time to pack their bags for Chile for the World Rugby Sevens Challenger Series, a pathway to the World Sevens Series.

One slot was at stake and just like it had been prior to the Africa Cup, there was hope back home Uganda could land the slot but a heartbreak ensued in the quarters as Uganda lost 17-14 to Germany in a manner everyone loves to forget.

In the end, they finished sixth to miss out on core status for the fourth time on the bounce.

The World Cup was next on the menu. Losing 33–7 to Tonga in the opening round spurred Uganda on for a run that ended with a sweet 19-12 over Germany in the Bowl final to finish 17th, it was also an improvement from the 2018 World Cup where Uganda had finished 19th.

On the local scene, Jinja Hippos came of age by winning the National 7s Championship after seven rounds.

The youthful side coached by Saidi Atibu upset the status quo for their first piece of silverware since inception.

Hippos had stand out players in Jacob Ochen, Dennis Etwau and the top try scorer Timothy Mugisha who all caught Onyango’s eye for Cranes’ call ups.

Heathens also revived their romance with yellow to win a 15th league title and a 12th Uganda Cup.

The Kyadondo side also saw long time servant hooker Alex Mubiru call it a day after 24 years of service. 

In a nutshell, 7s rugby offered more especially on the international scene where the Rugby Cranes test side struggled for game time let alone the 2022 Africa Cup hosted in France which did not yield tangible results.

The Lady Cranes too were stopped by Kenya at Wankuluku to advance from Rugby Africa Women’s Cup Pool B onto the next phase of the next round of World Cup qualification.



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